By Jonathan Power
September 2nd 2014
Violence should have had its day. Look at its non-achievements: The US/British/French invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The upheavals of the “Arab Spring”. And now Ukraine.
Will we ever learn its limitations?
In Iraq outsiders’ violence overthrew the dictator Saddam Hussein who for all his faults provided stability, safety on the streets, food, a falling infant mortality rate and universal health services. What did it substitute beside the worthwhile job of killing off Saddam?
Mayhem, tens of thousands of deaths of innocents, fear of the street, shortages of food, upheavals in the health services and schools. And an ongoing instability, not least the opening given to ISIS.
In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi provided the same sort of things as Saddam. Now, following the bombing by the British, French, Qataris and, in the background, the US, we see a country disintegrating into armed factions.
In Syria there has been a relatively benign dictatorship under both Assad father and Assad son. According to the United Nations Human Development report Syria has been among the top ten developing countries in lowering infant mortality and maternal childbirth deaths. The murder and rape rate was low. Now many of the cities are reduced to rubble and there are 3 million refugees.
In Egypt under Mubarak, there was religious freedom, some opposition in parliament and some progress in raising the standard of living. The crime rate was low.
In Ukraine, granted there was a mess – a precarious economy running downhill and a corrupt and incompetent leadership – but there was a free press, elections and the surety of being able to walk around in peace. Now Ukraine is getting into the deep end of a civil war. Russia looks like it might be invading and some in the West are talking as if they want to initiate steps that could well see NATO going eye to eye with Russian forces. This could lead to a war that would rip Europe apart.
Who to blame? Of course the dictators or corrupt rulers who gave cause for the attacks against them. Second, the West which in some cases bombed, talked publicly about bombing or verbally supported anti-regime forces, both violent and non-violent who hadn’t thought through where their protests might lead. (Not only the West. In the Middle East some Arab countries and Iran contributed to the upheavals.)
In Egypt the cause of the youthful protests that brought about the overthrow of Mubarak and fair elections got lost when the same protestors two years later went back to the streets and Tahrir Square to demand the overthrow of the elected president.
Admittedly President Muhammad Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was implementing a one-sided agenda but the next elections would have been the time to kick him out. Meanwhile, there was a free press, the right to demonstrate and freedom for opposition political groups. The protestors apparently did not want the long-haul of canvasing, persuading and organising voters. Very stupidly they now thought of the army as their friend. The army reciprocated their admiration by staging a coup and imprisoning many protestors. What kind of strategy did the protestors have? None.
In Syria the anti-regime protests were started by teenagers. The government cracked down on them, triggering a large non-violent protest movement that brought large crowds of marchers on to the streets every day. When the police cracked heads militants, a small minority of the demonstrators, took to the gun.
Not for them the tactics of Gandhi or Martin Luther King – persistently turning the other cheek. Now we have the destruction of Syria. If they had continued the non-violent protests the regime would have had to implement reforms, insufficient no doubt, but giving an opening for further action at a later date- as with the civil rights movement in the US where blacks faced not the dictatorship of one man but the repression, discrimination and violence of a sizeable part of the white population, not to mention the denial of the vote.
In Ukraine we saw the demonstrators – a mere few thousand – give way to militants, a good portion of which were extremist nationalists from a movement with a pro-Nazi past, who used violence against the police and “won” the battle of the square and the accolades of the West.
Too many of the “non-violent” demonstrators seemed to tolerate them and the wider population was lethargic. The EU, the US and Russian negotiators made a deal with President Viktor Yanukovych that in return for reforms they would support him staying in office until the next election. The next day under pressure from extremist demonstrators the deal collapsed.
The moral: non-violence is the only way to get change but its demonstrators must have a strategy, be self-disciplined and tough with the extremists around its edges.
The West, continuously taking the wrong steps, should stay out of it.
Copyright: Jonathan Power